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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R-PA): Thank you.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DL): Good to be back.

MR. RUSSERT: Here's the headline in today's Washington Post, Senator Santorum: "GOP May Seek A Deal On Accounts," meaning private accounts, Social Security, saying that the president is being told by House Republicans, forget about private personal accounts out of Social Security payroll taxes. Do something like Social Security plus, investment accounts outside of Social Security. Are you open to that?

SEN. SANTORUM: Everything's on the table. That would certainly not meet my desire. I don't think it solves the problem. It doesn't solve the problem of making sure that younger workers have an opportunity to get the benefits that they are promised but Social Security under the current structure can't deliver. And adding more taxes, which is what an outside account would be would simply be either a voluntary or forced tax increase to put that money aside, I don't believe solves the long-term problem and creates problems for current workers in our ability to compete with this globally competitive world we're in.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you, Senator?

SEN. BIDEN: Good idea. Pat Moynihan is back. He hadn't gone. That was Pat Moynihan's idea and I think it's the correct idea. And the presumption that Social Security can't meet its obligations rests on the notion that the federal government will default, something it's never done in 220 years, on an obligation, on Treasury notes, IOUs, just like the IOUs Japan has and other countries have in terms of buying our Treasury bonds. And so I don't think we'll default. And I think it's a good idea.

MR. RUSSERT: The issue is the solvency of Social Security, and there's a real question as to whether or not accounts, personal or private, do anything to deal with the solvency problem. Robert Samuelson wrote this in The Washington Post. "The [Bush Social Security] plan doesn't address baby boomers' retirement costs. Our central budget problem ... is the coming spending explosion in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, driven by aging baby boomers and rising health spending. In 2004 these programs cost $965 billion. ... The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2030 their costs will rise to...more than $1.6 trillion in today's dollars. ... Once you've done this math, you recognize that benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are inevitable. They're the only other way to limit massive tax increases or immense budget deficits. ... The disagreeable reality is that the baby boom's sheer weight will sooner or later force cuts in Social Security and Medicare. ... Personal accounts-like them or not-don't solve the real problem."

SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, he-no, that is true that they don't solve the whole problem. I think it solves a little bit of the problem, but Mr. Samuelson points out the exact point and that is there isn't one problem. See, everybody is focusing on how do you bring the revenue line together with the benefit line? But you create another problem when do you that. If you bring it together by increasing taxes, then you're telling future generations that you're going to have higher taxes, higher costs of labor in a globally competitive world where that higher cost of labor is going to mean fewer jobs, or you're going to tell future retirees-and this is the third potential problem-that they're going to have 30 percent reduction in benefits over time, which means they're not going to have a secure retirement. So the idea that Social Security's only problem is bringing these two lines together for solvency really belies the fact that by doing that you create other problems in the future.

That's what private accounts solve. They give us the ability to have higher benefits without tax increases in the future because you pre-fund the liability and let the miracle of compound interest solve that problem in the future.

MR. RUSSERT: But private accounts, personal accounts, Senator, alone do not solve the solvency problem.

SEN. SANTORUM: No one's suggesting that. The president's been very clear.

MR. RUSSERT: You'd have to reduce benefits.

SEN. SANTORUM: The president's been very clear that it's a combination of personal retirement accounts would solve the problem of retirement security for future generations and either a reduction in benefits or an increase in taxes-that combination. But the combination will be smaller if you have personal accounts.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you more, Senator Biden, by Robert Samuelson.
"Bush wants it both ways: He wants to appeal to younger voters by offering personal accounts; and he doesn't want to offend older voters, (including baby boomers) by cutting their benefits. This may be smart politics, but it's lousy policy. ... Democrats, like Bush, aren't acknowledging the unpopular choices posed by an aging baby boom generation."

Can you say today...

SEN. BIDEN: I think he's right on both scores.

MR. RUSSERT: So the Democrats should step forward and say, "We may have to..."


MR. RUSSERT: "...reduce benefits, we may have to raise taxes"?

SEN. BIDEN: No. Or raise retirement age or raise the income of which is taxable, all of which relates to-there's-you know, the president of the United States-let's get one thing straight. No matter how you cut it, this real debate on personal accounts is about the legitimacy of Social Security; it's not about the solvency of Social Security. This does nothing not only to not make it solvent-the lines meet, as Rick says-it makes it less solvent. It makes it less solvent. You've got to come up with $2 trillion in order to accommodate the president's plan that he put out there, about 4 percent.

Now, I'm ready, willing and able to listen to anything the president has to put on the table about the issue of how he's going to deal with the solvency of Social Security, and it will require a combination or one of all the things you mentioned. But on private accounts, that only exacerbates the problem, exacerbates the problem, doesn't help the problem.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, it's interesting reading your comments about Social Security. In 2000, you said, "There are three alternatives-raise taxes...cut benefits or...we could establish personal retirement accounts."

But in 1994, when you ran for the Senate, you said, "You can raise taxes, you can cut benefits or you can push back the retirement age in the future." And went on to say, "It is ridiculous that we have a retirement age in this country at age 65 today. ...Push it back to at least age 70. ... I'd go even farther if I could, but I don't think I could pass it."

Are you still in favor of raising the retirement age?

SEN. SANTORUM: I think what Joe said was that that's one of the options on the table, and I think that has to be. When you look at the fact that people are living substantially longer, I was speaking to a group of students at La Salle University at the time, and talking about them, and that for their retirement age, it was going to be 67, and I said that it probably in the future, as Joe mentioned, is going to be an option on the table to push back further. But that's a benefit reduction. I mean, let's be honest about what that is. It is a reduction in benefits for future generations.

And where I would disagree with Joe is that I think that what personal accounts gets you-which I didn't talk about in 1994 because I wasn't that familiar with this concept, was that what it gets you is the opportunity to get better benefits in the future, and it's prefunding the liability. We're at a $10 trillion shortfall over the life of this program. And what we're talking about, instead of recognizing that and having to raise taxes, cut benefits or borrow more money in the future, is to prefund that now so we'll have fewer liabilities later.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the other issues being talked about, Senator Biden, is raising the cap. Right now, you pay payroll tax on the first $90,000 of your income.

SEN. BIDEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: Some are suggesting raising that to the first $140,000.

SEN. BIDEN: The president suggested that as an option.

MR. RUSSERT: It would be a tax increase for...

SEN. BIDEN: Sure, it is.

MR. RUSSERT: ...6 percent of high-income Americans.

SEN. BIDEN: Sure, it is. Absolutely, positively, it would be. And if that's what the president proposes, I'll take a look at it. But look, in terms of a crisis, let's get something straight here. We're talking about 2018 being the year, which that's based on projections that are very modest in terms of our growth. If, in fact,those projections are wrong, that number goes out further, number one.

So that's the point at which less money is going in than is going out. Right now, we have this massive hemorrhage of more money in than out. We're spending it all. I don't know what happened to the lockbox. Remember that campaign two years ago-I mean, two times ago, this lockbox? Well, the lockbox went out with the tax cut. The lockbox went out with 9/11. The lockbox went out with a whole range of things. There ain't no lockbox. And so the problem is this is not-I am more concerned about Medicare. That is the thing that's going to go bankrupt, really bankrupt quickly, and there ain't any IOUs in there for the government being obligated to turn around and be able to have to redeem.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me stay on this cap with Senator Santorum. Could you support lifting the cap from $90,000 so that higher-earning-income Americans would pay Social Security tax on more income?

SEN. SANTORUM: I think what the president said and I would agree with is that everything has to be on the table, with one exception in my case, which is that we shouldn't touch benefits for people at or over 55. The president has also said we shouldn't have any kind of rate increase. But I'm sitting down and negotiating with Democrats in the Senate, and what I've said is I can't expect them to come to the table with everything on the table unless I come to the table with everything on the table.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what the House top two Republicans said. They "swiftly rejected an idea floated by President Bush to raise the ceiling on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax, with Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay saying that they would that a tax increase. ... 'This Republican House didn't come here to raise taxes,' DeLay said. ...'We can solve this problem without raising taxes. ...To everybody that makes over $90,000 a year, it's a tax increase.'"

SEN. SANTORUM: There is no question it's a tax increase, and it's a big tax increase. It's a 12.4 percent tax increase on top of people at that level who are already paying 35 percent income tax. And so the combined tax would be about 50 percent. So, I mean, it's a significant tax increase, but it's...

MR. RUSSERT: But it's on the table?

SEN. SANTORUM: I-look, if you're going to try to solve a problem and you're bringing folks who don't agree with a lot of what you want to do, you've got to leave everything on the table to get them to the table.

MR. RUSSERT: We've been talking about health care. One of the things the president talks about in his budget proposal is Medicaid. 1.7 million people on Medicaid in your state of Pennsylvania, and the president wants to reduce funding significantly. Do you support that?

SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I'm certainly going to look at his Medicaid reductions. Look, if you look at the four biggest programs in Washington, D.C., first is Social Security, second is Medicare, third is defense and fourth is Medicaid. And three of those four are almost completely funding seniors. And so we have a problem that Social Security alludes to, which is people are living longer and we have fewer people being born; birth rates are lower, and so we have fewer people paying in. We've got to have-we've got to figure out how we're going to take these systems-Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security-as Samuelson pointed out, over the long term and start doing some things to restructure those costs. Otherwise they're simply going to get out of control, and the president's at least attempting to do that, and I give him credit for trying.

MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead.

SEN. BIDEN: Not restructuring; he's shifting the cost-shifting the cost to the states. If he had a proposal to restructure the costs, I'd listen to it. This is shifting the cost, shifting the cost to those entities of less capacity and less resilience to be able to deal with the problem.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think Delaware or Pennsylvania will have to raise taxes?

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely, they will, in fact, if the president's proposal goes forward. Absolutely, positively.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about another tough issue for both of you: Amtrak. The president wants...

SEN. BIDEN: It's not tough for me.

MR. RUSSERT: You take Amtrak every day back and forth to work.

SEN. BIDEN: No, I mean it. This is absolutely bizarre that we continue to subsidize highways beyond the gasoline tax, airlines, and we don't subsidize, we don't want to subsidize a national rail system that has environmental impact. Do you know what it would take? It would take us $71 billion to be able to go and take-if you took Amtrak out of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston, to build enough highway on 95 to go up and back. This is the ultimate being penny-wise and a pound-foolish.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, your Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, said the president's elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak is unacceptable.


MR. RUSSERT: Do you share that view?

SEN. SANTORUM: I would agree with-it's not...

MR. RUSSERT: So you're going to fight it?

SEN. SANTORUM: It's not acceptable to me, either. I think what the president has suggested, you know, is not going to pass, number one. Number two, I think what he has been putting forward is that Amtrak has to be more efficient. And I would agree with Joe 100 percent on the Northeast Corridor and probably the West Coast. The problem is, you've got a lot of other lines that are horribly unprofitable, and they're in a political conundrum, which is if you eliminate those lines and they don't have the support to get the money they need-as long as you keep that-lines, they run huge deficits. So it's-somebody has got to start to make tough decisions at Amtrak, and I'm going to certainly encourage that to occur.

MR. RUSSERT: But you're going to fight the president?

SEN. SANTORUM: I'll fight him on that money, yes.

SEN. BIDEN: This is worth coming to the show for.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to foreign policy. Senator Biden, how do you think President Bush did in his meetings and press conference with Russian President Putin?

SEN. BIDEN: I think he did well. Look, he didn't accomplish anything, but then again, in terms of any breakthroughs with Russia, they're still talking about selling missiles to the Syrians, they're still talking about continuing the Bashir reactor in Iran. They're unwilling to make some of the fundamental changes they have to make in terms of their own circumstance. But I think it's important. For the first time of late, the president's spoken up and said, "Look, Mr. President, President Putin, you're becoming a problem. You're pushing back democracy. It's contrary to everything I've been saying. And if you don't begin to get it straightened out, we're going to have some problems."

And-but the one place I was most disappointed is the breakthroughs allegedly on dealing with loose nukes, nuclear material, etc., was not nearly as much as I think could have been accomplished. And I think the only way to break through the bureaucratic conundrum here of us helping the Russians do away with the tons of plutonium they have and all the unsafe areas they have is for President Putin and Bush to say, "This is what we're going to do." Right now we're in a big conundrum about liability insurance and the like. I'm disappointed that there wasn't more that came out of it, but happy that the president was as straightforward as he was.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, if you read about what President Bush has said about Russian President Putin over the last couple of years, that he looked into his eyes and saw his soul, he is honest, straightforward, he wouldn't mind being in a foxhole with him, he can do business with him, and as recently as this week said he trusts him in terms of keeping Russia on a democratic course. Is that wise rhetoric for a president of the United States to use about a Russian president?

SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you know, I think this president has shown that he's willing to stand up and say what needs to be said against any foreign leader who is doing things that is not in the interest of the United States' national security of what he believes is in the best interest of the world. And I think the president, in spite of all of those positive things he said, had the courage to go there, and face to face and before the Russian press and before the Russian public, and say things critical of this president, President Putin. I think that kind of courage is to be admired out of this president, courage both ways, to compliment him when things are going well and to call him to task when they're not.

MR. RUSSERT: Where are we in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: We're on the brink. We have a real shot here, Tim, if, in fact, we don't think that the Iraqis can do it on their own. We should be setting up an international sort of board of directors, made up of the president of the E.U., the secretary-general of NATO, the United States as the chairman of the board, essentially a clearinghouse for the Iraqis right now because they have some tough decisions to make. They know they have to bring the Sunnis in. It's very difficult for the Shia to do that and the Kurds to do that. They need somebody to blame it on. They've got to be able to say "Look, you know, I don't want to do this to my constituency but in order to get the following help."

And we have to broaden-we have to give the Europeans a seat at the table in order to have-send them a bill. And they now say they're ready to sign up, train Iraqi troops. You know, all that fight about how many troops are trained or not, well, they sent up the supplemental, in the jargon of your listeners, additional money for Iraq, and in it they put the truth. "We have trained 90 battalions, but only one-we have 90 Iraqi battalions, 'Only one is trained.'" We got a long way to go. They finally figured it out. They're working on it, and if we stay clear on this and provide this to-you know, bring in the rest of the community, the rest of the world, and set up, in effect, a contact group, we have a shot to help them navigate themselves through a very difficult period here.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, how concerned are you about the man who looks like he'll be the next prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, a head of the Dawa Party, a that's been linked to terrorism? What are we going to in charge in Iraq, an Islamist with potential terrorist ties?

SEN. SANTORUM: I think that's one man. I think you're seeing a lot of other players in this, and the fact that it was not an overall-overwhelming election on the part of that coalition I think will require what you're seeing, which is a lot of collaboration and cooperation, and that one man, as you know, will be just an interim president. But working on that constitution will not just be him but a whole group of people. The Kurds are beginning to exert themselves some more now, which I think is positive. I think you-I don't see that one individual as being necessarily a stumbling block to this process.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, judicial nominations. Way back in 1987, you were talking about...

SEN. BIDEN: How do you remember all these things?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, we work hard at this, Senator. And you said, "I think the advice and consent responsibility of the Senate does not permit us to deprive the president of the United States for being able to appoint that person or persons who have a particular point of view, unless it can be show their temperament does not fit the job, they are morally incapable or are unqualified for the job; they have committed crimes of moral turpitude."

People who don't have a particular point of view? If someone has a conservative view, then why would you try to block him from being voted on in the Senate?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't think we should try to block him from being voted on in the Senate. Here's the deal. The question is the people I voted on-against in some of the nine nominees the president sent back up-not all of them I didn't vote against, but some of them I did-is because I thought they did not have a judicial temperament, like the justice out of Texas. Now-but to make it clear, I also sort of set the standard people don't like having been set, saying that for a Supreme Court justice it's a different deal because they're not bound by stare decisis. If a district court judge or a circuit court judge says, "I'll be bound by-even though I have a different view on this issue, that I'll be bound by what the court has said," I'll take them at their word even though they may have a different personal view because they can't go beyond what the Supreme Court judgment is. Supreme Court justices, different deal; de novo, they can come along and say, "I disagree with the past rulings of the Supreme Court." So it's a different standard for Supreme Court. For the district courts, that's the standard I've applied. That's why I voted for all but I think-think there's been somewhere over 1,250 judges I voted for and I've only voted no I think 16 times.

MR. RUSSERT: If the president decided to elevate Antonin Scalia to chief justice, would you vote for him?

SEN. BIDEN: No. I would spend a lot of time making the case he shouldn't be chief justice.

MR. RUSSERT: You voted to confirm him for the court.

SEN. BIDEN: I did. I voted to confirm him to the court. He's turned out to be everything that everybody said he would be, a brilliant guy with a view of the Constitution and how to read it fundamentally different than I think it should be read. He thinks...

MR. RUSSERT: But on your standards, does he lack judicial temperament?

SEN. BIDEN: No. Remember what I just said about the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's a different deal. At the time we voted for him, he was a blank slate. Nobody knew. Including old Mario Cuomo was pushing hard for Antonin Scalia. He went overwhelmingly through. Dennis DiConcini, I think, was the only one who voted no, but...

MR. RUSSERT: So you would oppose him because he's a conservative?

SEN. BIDEN: I would oppose him because of his methodology, the way he interprets the Constitution; i.e., he thinks there are no such thing as unenumerated rights in the Constitution which fundamentally alters the way in which you read the liberty clause of the 14th Amendment and a whole range of other things. I think he's a brilliant, decent man who I think misreads the Constitution, in my view. I would vote no.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, would you support a constitutional amendment to allow people who are citizens for 20 years to run for president?

SEN. SANTORUM: No, I probably wouldn't. I think the Constitution probably has it right.

MR. RUSSERT: Natural born.

SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, I think natural born is fine. I'm not...

MR. RUSSERT: So Arnold Schwarzenegger is out.

SEN. SANTORUM: Look, I don't see a great need to change that area of the Constitution. I think there's a lot more pressing issues to change than allowing people who are born overseas to come here, so I don't see any reason.

MR. RUSSERT: How about you?

SEN. BIDEN: I want to help Arnold any way I can, but I'm incredibly reluctant to amend the Constitution for any purpose.

MR. RUSSERT: 2008, are you going to run for president?

SEN. SANTORUM: I have no intention of doing that. I'm running for re-election to the United States Senate. That's what I'm working on.

MR. RUSSERT: No intention?

SEN. SANTORUM: One of the things I learned and Joe will probably back me up on this, you never say never in politics. And so I'm not going to put myself where Russert's going to put something up on the screen with me a couple of years from now, you know, whatever that is. What I've said is it's a great honor to represent the people of Pennsylvania.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, if you were re-elected to the Senate by the voters of Pennsylvania...

SEN. SANTORUM: I'm going to be running for the whip's office in the United States Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you pledge to serve a full six-year term?

SEN. SANTORUM: One of the things I've nev-again, I never do those kinds of things. My sense is that the people of Pennsylvania are-I'm running for re-election and that's all I'm going to say.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, how about you? Running for president?

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.

SEN. SANTORUM: Is that a prayer for me, Joe? Thank you. I appreciate that.

SEN. BIDEN: The answer is there's a lot at stake and I might.

MR. RUSSERT: When will you make a decision?

SEN. BIDEN: I think I have to make that decision by the beginning of the next congressional election cycle. Practically I think-personally have to decide whether I'm serious about it by the end of this year.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1988, you ran for president, withdrew from the race after accusations you borrowed words from other politicians.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: What did you learn from that?

SEN. BIDEN: I learned that you've got to be a lot more careful. You've got to stand up and take responsibility for what mistakes you made. And it doesn't matter whether what you're accused of is what you did. The fact of the matter is I was lazy. The fact of the matter was I was arrogant about how I went about it. And I hope in the last-it will be 20 years if I do it again. I hope I've learned something from that in the last 20 years, but...

MR. RUSSERT: Could you beat Hillary Clinton in a primary?

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, I think she'd be incredibly difficult to beat. I think she is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee. And by the way, I shouldn't be saying this, an admission against interest. I'm one who doesn't believe that she is incapable of being elected. I think she is likely to be the nominee. She'd be the toughest person. And I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: Who do you think will be the Republicans nominee?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know. What I understand is-other than Rick, who probably is the most likely nominee, I guess, is probably Frist you hear most about. But, look, as you know better than I do, Tim, four years is a lifetime. It's three lifetimes in American politics. So this is a long way. I've learned that, too. And there's a lot of time between here and there.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, Senator Rick Santorum, thank you both.

SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, Tim.

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